Contributor: Charles Modlin, MD, MBA
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Disparities in health care often are thought to be the result of poverty and a related lack of access to quality health care. But clinical experience and research show that this is overly simplistic.
In truth, the cause is a mix of issues that include genetics, living and working conditions, cultural obstacles with caregivers and barriers to getting medical care.
Many minority populations lack access to quality care, but health disparities still exist even in minority populations with good access. This may be due to family history and lifestyle choices.
Genetic differences, although small, appear to contribute to health disparities in certain diseases, such as prostate cancer. So do behavioral factors such as chronic stress, poor diet and tobacco and alcohol use. Minority men also are less aware about the importance of preventive health exams and screening.
And when minority men do seek medical help, they can face cultural insensitivity at the doctor’s office. This stems in part from lack of diversity in the health care work force.
Lack of cultural sensitivity among health care providers can lead to misunderstandings with minority male patients. This results in poorer compliance with their doctor’s advice and recommendations. Often, minority patients believe that nobody will be an advocate for them.
Another factor is a culturally ingrained mistrust of the health care system, which is common among many minority populations and can be a significant obstacle.
No equal benefit
While advances in medicine over the past several decades have reduced death rates from cancer and coronary artery disease, minority men have not benefited equally from these improvements.
African-American and Hispanic men are more likely than white men to develop a number of life-threatening diseases and medical problems – and are at greater risk of dying from them. Consider these statistics:
- Stroke kills 180 percent more African-American men than it does Caucasian men.
- Black men have the highest risk of developing prostate cancer and are twice as likely to die from it as other men with the cancer.
- Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in black men.
- Nearly 35 percent of black men have high blood pressure.
- African-American men have twice the incidence of developing prostate cancer and two times the death rate.
Take control of your health
The important thing for minority men to know is that they can play a strong role in maintaining their health.
Minority men can do this by developing healthy habits such as:
- Eating a nutritious diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Not smoking
- See a primary care physician at least once a year
- Get the right vaccines and an annual flu shot
Why a urologist can help
Minority men also should see a urologist once a year — just like women visit their gynecologist annually.
Urologists are specialists in terms of men’s health care needs, and can focus on male urologic, sexual and reproductive issues, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, prostate health, erectile dysfunction and reproductive health.
Minority men also should ask their healthcare providers about screenings for conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.
Minority men should be sure to ask if race might affect interpretation of the A1C diabetes test. If you’re a minority man diagnosed with a hemoglobin variant, your A1C tests may need to be done at a specialized lab for the most accurate results.